Joint statement by the European Commission, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, on immunization, celebrating the work done in protecting the health of multiple generations

Today, the European Commission, represented by Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, has issued a joint statement on immunization, alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, represented by Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and the United Nations Children´s Fund (UNICEF), represented by Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, celebrating the work of immunization in protecting the health of multiple generations. The joint statement reads as follows:

The establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) 50 years ago was a pivotal moment in the history of public health and has saved millions of lives globally every year. In 1974, only 5% of the world’s children had been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Today, that figure has increased to nearly 85% of children worldwide and 94% in the WHO European Region.

Just five years after the introduction of the EPI, Smallpox was eradicated. Since then, the geographic range of wild poliovirus has been reduced to just two countries, and the threat of several serious infectious childhood diseases has decreased dramatically. Continued innovation in the field of immunology has led to development of vaccines that can protect against even more diseases, opening the possibility in the European Region to eliminate hepatitis B and cervical cancer in the near future.

While we celebrate these monumental achievements, which have protected the health of multiple generations, we remain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact on our societies and economies, on health systems and health care delivery.

The decline in vaccination rates in some countries within the European Region between 2020 and 2022 sheds light on the vulnerability of our success. Over the past three years, more than 1.8 million children in the WHO European Region have missed their measles vaccination. The consequence of which is a 60-fold increase in the number of measles cases in 2023 from 2022.

Our resolve to provide the benefits of vaccination to everyone everywhere must not waver. Against the backdrop of – multiple crises and the spread of misinformation in the Region, the European Commission, WHO and UNICEF are committed to continuing our work together, in close cooperation with the Member States across Europe, to bolster health systems and ensure equitable access to immunization services. Together, we will continue to raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination, and boost vaccine confidence to sustain public demand for vaccines, now and in the future. At the same time, we continue to help ensure health systems are adequately prepared for any epidemic and future pandemics.

In our common goal to ensure healthier and safer lives for current and future generations, it is imperative vaccination remain a critical cornerstone of public health.


50 years ago, building upon progress towards smallpox eradication and recognizing the unmet potential of other vaccines, Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) committed to offer vaccines to their populations to help control six additional infectious diseases. The benefits of immunization were available to only a small proportion of children worldwide at that time, so the Member States resolved that a child born anywhere should have access to vaccination against poliomyelitis (polio), measles, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis in addition to smallpox. The Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) was born to ensure this access. Over the past 50 years, this focus has expanded throughout the world, extending up to 22 diseases in the European Region.